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Riverhead School District honors past and present students

“Forward march!”

The voice of NJROTC cadet Kellia Daniels echoed through the Riverhead High School auditorium Tuesday night.

“Present colors!”

Four other cadets followed behind her, marching across the stage and presenting the color guard to honor U.S. Army Private First Class Garfield Langhorn, who died 50 years ago last week. 

Board and audience members placed their right hand over their chest and recited the pledge of allegiance, remembering the serviceman who died Jan. 15, 1969 in Pleiku, Vietnam, after he threw himself onto a grenade to save the lives of his wounded army comrades.

“He came of age in our town,” Sr. Naval Science Instructor, Capt. Matthew Loughlin said at the board meeting. “He attended our school. And he is one of us.”

The Riverhead High School alum was the only Suffolk County resident to earn the Medal of Honor, the highest award distinction for servicemen, during the Vietnam War.

“No course of military training prepared him to perform that act of bravery — to save the life of his comrades, which ultimately cost him his own life. Nobody could be trained to do what he did,” Capt. Loughlin said. “He attended our school, and 50 years on, he is still one of us — the best we have to offer.”

Taliyah Moore is honored by members of the Riverhead Board of Education. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

The district also honored another one of Riverhead’s own that evening — sophomore Taliyah Moore, a disabled student who spoke up for herself during a difficult time.

Eileen Manitta, director of pupil personnel services, stood next to Taliyah and shared her story. They first met when Ms. Manitta was the Riverhead High School assistant principal.

“Unfortunately, transitioning to the high school is not an easy thing to do,” Ms. Manitta said.

Taliyah, 15, has cerebral palsy is confined to a wheelchair. Ms. Manitta said Taliyah struggled to communicate and connect with others but took it upon herself to fix the problem.

“She did something bold and unexpected: made an appointment with her assistant principal to discuss the lack of support she was experiencing,” Ms. Manitta said. “I was stunned by her courage to express herself.”

Taliyah has since worked through her transition concerns, Ms. Manitta said, and her smile “radiates the high school halls.”

Outside the classroom, Taliyah attends Goodwill African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Riverhead, where she’s involved in two choirs. Last summer, she volunteered with the Butterfly Effect Project in Riverhead, a nonprofit devoted to empowering young women. She’s also a member of the Youth Court at the Town of Riverhead Justice Court.

But it’s more than standing up for herself: In 2018, for her advocacy within the disabled community, Taliyah received the Access to Better Learning Experience Award from the Coram nonprofit Transformative Educational Developmental Services.

“She persevered, demonstrated self-advocacy and determination,” Ms. Manitta said. “Taliyah believes that every disability has helped her to appreciate other people.”

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